Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term


Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term
President Biden speaking about the shooting in Boulder, Colo., at the White House last week.Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Facing an array of challenges, from the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout to climate change, President Biden is proving that he is not interested in going small.

Earlier this month, Mr. Biden signed into law his $1.9 trillion stimulus package without any significant Republican congressional support. At his first news conference, he told reporters that his goal was not to win Republicans over, but to make common cause with their voters — left, right and center — who need help now.

“I think my Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m just going to move forward.”

His trip to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, to unveil what aides say will be a $3 trillion new spending plan — with an additional $1 trillion in tax credits and other incentives — should hammer home that point pretty unmistakably.

So far, his strategy seems to be working, with a new NPR/Marist poll released Tuesday showing him with a solid 52 percent approval rating; Over the first three months of his presidency Mr. Biden has maintained an average approval higher than President Donald J. Trump ever achieved during his four years in office.

Mr. Biden believes he has a short window of a time in which to push through big projects. Even though Democrats’ margins on Capitol Hill are small, they are, in his view, sufficient to execute an agenda thwarted by Mr. Trump and his allies last year.

When the Democrat-controlled House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill last May, it was the most expensive legislation ever approved by a chamber of Congress in U.S. history. It went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

But it too, eventually, reflected the public’s desire for big, bold action. The $2.2 trillion stimulus law that was ultimately signed into law by Mr. Trump in March 2020 was the largest spending bill to date in American history. Mr. Biden is scheduled on Tuesday to extend the Paycheck Protection Program, which was created by that law, to May 31.

Part of Mr. Biden’s motivation now is to avoid what many Democrats see as a mistake of the Obama administration: scaling bills down in pursuit of Republican support, only to pass a final product that, in their view, did not meet the moment.

Another factor in Mr. Biden’s approach is how enormously the political dynamics within the Democratic Party have changed in the past 12 years, with progressives wielding significantly more influence.

And that, above all else, is what is propelling his drive to go big so early, aides say.

Barack Obama, like Mr. Biden, inherited a devastated economy when he became president and quickly proposed what was, at the time, a historically large stimulus; the version that ultimately passed totaled $787 billion, less than half the size of the Biden stimulus. Mr. Obama signed the package on Feb. 17, 2009, and headed to Arizona the next day to announce a comparatively tiny $75 billion housing plan.

Mr. Trump failed to sign a major piece of legislation in his first months in office. Nearly half of the first 28 laws he signed were rollbacks of Obama-era regulations. Within the first hours of his presidency, Mr. Trump moved to fulfill his pledge to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, issuing an executive order to “ease the burdens” of the law, but Congress never repealed the A.C.A. And while he ordered that the U.S.-Mexico border wall be built, he was forced to accept a delay in funding.

Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term
Representative Tom Suozzi, Democrat of New York, warned that he would not support the president’s spending plan unless it eliminated a rule that prevents taxpayers from deducting more than $10,000 in local and state taxes from their federal income taxes.Credit...Cheriss May/Getty Images

Senior Democrats on Monday proposed a tax increase that could partly finance President Biden’s plans to pour trillions of dollars into infrastructure and other new government programs, as party leaders weighed an aggressive strategy to force his spending proposals through Congress over unified Republican opposition.

The moves were the start of a complex effort by Mr. Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill to pave the way for another huge tranche of federal spending after the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that was enacted this month. The president is set to announce this week the details of his budget, including his much-anticipated infrastructure plan.

He is scheduled to travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to describe the first half of a “Build Back Better” proposal that aides say will include a total of $3 trillion in new spending and up to an additional $1 trillion in tax credits and other incentives.

Yet with Republicans showing early opposition to such a large plan and some Democrats resisting key details, the proposals will be more difficult to enact than the pandemic aid package, which Democrats muscled through the House and Senate on party-line votes.

In the House, where Mr. Biden can currently afford to lose only eight votes, Representative Tom Suozzi, Democrat of New York, warned that he would not support the president’s plan unless it eliminated a rule that prevents taxpayers from deducting more than $10,000 in local and state taxes from their federal income taxes. He is one of a handful of House Democrats who are calling on the president to repeal the provision.

And in the Senate, where most major legislation requires 60 votes to advance, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, was exploring an unusual maneuver that could allow Democrats to once again use reconciliation — the fast-track budget process they used for the stimulus plan — to steer his spending plans through Congress in the next few months even if Republicans are unanimously opposed.

While an aide to Mr. Schumer said a final decision had not been made to pursue such a strategy, the prospect, discussed on the condition of anonymity, underscored the lengths to which Democrats were willing to go to push through Mr. Biden’s agenda.

The president’s initiatives will feature money for traditional infrastructure projects like rebuilding roads, bridges and water systems; spending to advance a transition to a lower-carbon energy system, like electric vehicle charging stations and the construction of energy-efficient buildings; investments in emerging industries like advanced batteries; education efforts like free community college and universal prekindergarten; and measures to help women work and earn more, like increased support for child care.

The proposals are expected to be partly offset by a wide range of tax increases on corporations and high earners.

Continue reading the main story
Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term
Demonstrators protested new state-level voting restrictions at Liberty Plaza in Atlanta last week.Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times

A coalition of civil rights groups led by the N.A.A.C.P. have filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia officials charging that a new law severely curtailing ballot access represents “intentional discrimination” against the state’s Black voters.

The suit, dated March 28 and filed in the Northern District Court of Georgia, is the third case brought since Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, signed a G.O.P.-backed bill that prohibits the use of drop boxes, requires proof of identity for absentee voting, and makes it a crime to provide food or water to voters forced to line up outside of polling locations.

Opponents of the bill are mounting an all-fronts legal, legislative and political battle to roll back the law and others like it, state by state — as Senate Democrats debate scrapping or suspending the filibuster rule to pass two sweeping electoral reform bills that would void state-level restrictions.

The law “is the culmination of a concerted effort to suppress the participation of Black voters and other voters of color by the Republican State Senate, State House, and governor,” wrote the attorneys from the Georgia chapters of the N.A.A.C.P. and several other groups, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.

The plaintiffs argue that Mr. Kemp and other Republicans violated the First, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by seeking to limit the participation of Democratic voters who are a growing force in the state’s urban and suburban areas.

“Unable to stem the tide of these demographic changes or change the voting patterns of voters of color, these officials have resorted to attempting to suppress the vote of Black voters and other voters of color in order to maintain the tenuous hold that the Republican Party has in Georgia,” they added. “In other words, these officials are using racial discrimination as a means of achieving a partisan end.”

One of the defendants named in the suit is Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, who supported the expansion of voting access and rebuffed former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn President Biden’s narrow win in the state.

The plaintiffs claim that “detailed records” on “the racial demographics of voting” maintained by his office were used to draft the legislation.

“As a result, the Georgia legislators and its elected officials are well aware of the implications of making decisions as to voting on racial and ethnic minorities,” they wrote.

The coalition, which includes Georgia’s Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe in the southern part of the state, also argued that the targeting of early in-person voting, absentee ballots and drop boxes discriminates against “Black, Latinx, Asian-American, members of Indigenous populations.”

Similar suits, making nearly identical legal arguments, were filed by Marc Elias, a top Democratic elections lawyer, and the Black Voters Matter Fund, a civil rights group, shortly after Mr. Kemp signed the law on March 25.

Republicans in Georgia and several other states considering similar laws have argued that restrictions are needed to address claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 elections, even though election officials in the state have repeatedly reported that there were few, if any, instances of fraud in last year’s balloting.

Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term
Voting-rights activists called for a boycott of Delta Air Lines during a protest at the Atlanta airport on Thursday.Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times

As Black Lives Matter protesters filled the streets last summer, many of the country’s largest corporations pledged support for racial justice.

But now, with Republican lawmakers around the country enacting restrictive voting rights bills that have a disproportionate impact on Black voters, corporate America has gone mostly quiet.

Last week, as Georgia Republicans rushed to pass a sweeping law restricting voter access, Atlanta’s biggest corporations, including Delta, Coca-Cola and Home Depot, declined to weigh in, offering only broad support for voting rights.

The muted response — coming from companies that last year promised to support social justice — infuriated activists, who are now calling for boycotts.

This week, civil rights groups announced a campaign to pressure the PGA to pull out of the Masters in Augusta, the most venerable of professional golf’s top tournaments and an annual pilgrimage for many corporate executives.

“We are all frustrated with these companies that claim that they are standing with the Black community around racial justice and racial equality,” said LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter. “They are complicit in their silence.”

On Thursday, hours after the Georgia voting restrictions were signed into law, Ms. Brown joined protesters at the Atlanta airport calling for a boycott of Delta, Georgia’s largest employer.

Delta is a major corporate supporter of the gay community, and was among the many major companies that last year said it stood with the Black community after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. At the time, Delta said it would look for ways to “make an impact and take a stand against racism and injustice, from programs to policy changes.”

But last week, Delta declined to comment on the Georgia legislation specifically, instead issuing a statement about the need for broad voter participation and equal access to the polls.

“It’s a double standard,” Ms. Brown said.

Coca-Cola, another major Atlanta employer, faced similar pressure as the new law took shape. Last summer, Coca-Cola’s chief executive, James Quincey, said the company would “invest our resources to advance social justice causes” and “use the voices of our brands to weigh in on important social conversations.”

But last week, rather than take a position on the then-pending legislation, Coca-Cola said it was aligned with local chambers of commerce, which called on legislators to maximize voter participation rather than offering pointed criticisms of the law President Biden likened to Jim Crow.

That smacked of hypocrisy to Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who spoke at a rally outside the Georgia Capitol on Thursday, where he quoted Mr. Quincey’s statements from last summer.

“We took him at his word,” Mr. Jackson said. “Now, when they try to pass this racist legislation, we can’t get him to say anything. And our position is, if you can’t stand with us now, you don’t need our money, you don’t need our support.”

Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term
President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.Credit...Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post, via Getty Images

President Biden began a drive to reshape the federal courts on Tuesday with a burst of judicial nominations that put an emphasis on diversity and drew from a broad range of backgrounds including public defenders.

The effort is motivated in part by a desire to offset the conservative mark stamped on the federal judiciary by former President Donald J. Trump, who won confirmation of more than 220 judges, mostly white men. But Mr. Biden’s first round of nominations also sought to make good on his campaign promise to draw from a more diverse pool than either party has in the past and to redefine what it means to be qualified for the federal bench.

In a statement early Tuesday, the president announced the nominations of 11 people to serve as federal district or appeals court judges, moving faster than any president in decades to fill open positions in the courts.

His nominees — led by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — included three African-American women for appeals court vacancies and candidates who, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first federal judge who is Muslim, the first Asian-American woman to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit and the first woman of color to serve as a federal judge in Maryland.

“This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “Each is deeply qualified and prepared to deliver justice faithfully under our Constitution and impartially to the American people — and together they represent the broad diversity of background, experience, and perspective that makes our nation strong.”

Allies say Mr. Biden, a former longtime chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a deep background in judicial nominations, is determined to install judges with different sets of experiences from the mainly white corporate law partners and prosecutors who have been tapped for decades by presidents of both parties. Mr. Biden has also promised to appoint the first African-American woman to the Supreme Court.

The first judicial picks of a new presidency typically set the tone for the administration. The White House tightly controlled information about who was under consideration for nominations. With 68 slots now open and an additional 26 scheduled to become vacant later this year, liberal activists are encouraging the administration to be aggressive to counter the Mr. Trump’s choices, particularly since Democrats could lose control of the Senate in next year’s midterm election.

Continue reading the main story
Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term
A vaccination and testing site in New York on Monday.Credit...Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Even as the United States steps up the pace of vaccinations, it remains in a race against a virus that is on the upswing as the spread of worrisome variants and a loosening of restrictions threatens to produce a possible surge in new infections.

After weeks of decline followed by a plateau, coronavirus cases seem to be rising again in the United States. As of Monday, there have been an average of more than 65,000 cases a day over the past two weeks. That is nearly a 19 percent rise over the daily average two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database. Deaths have been hovering around 1,000 a day in recent weeks.

Similar upticks in the past have led to major surges in the spread of the virus. Still, new cases and deaths have declined from the early January peak. The seven-day average of new deaths remains near 1,000 a day.

Federal health officials are pleading with Americans to stay vigilant, warning of a potential fourth surge as some states, like Texas and Florida, relax or eliminate virus restrictions. They are also concerned about variants like the one that walloped Britain, called B.1.1.7, which has led to a new wave of cases across most of Europe. The United States remains behind in its attempts to track them, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to locate them has recently improved and will continue to grow.

President Biden on Monday called for governors and mayors to maintain or reinstate mask mandates and warned against “letting up on precautions” before the virus is more under control.

“We are giving up hard-fought, hard-won gains,” he said. Key members of Mr. Biden’s virus team are expected to raise the issue during a weekly call with governors later Tuesday morning.

Some scientists predicted weeks ago that the number of infections could curve upward again in late March, at least in part because of the rise of variants of the coronavirus across the country. The B.1.1.7 variant isrising exponentially in Florida where it accounts for a greater proportion of total cases than in any other state, according to numbers collected by the C.D.C.

More Americans are traveling as well. Over the last week, an average of 1.3 million people passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports each day, according to the Transportation Security Administration. On Sunday alone, more than 1.5 million people went through T.S.A. screenings — a sharp increase from 180,000 on the same date in 2020.

Hours ahead of Mr. Biden’s warnings on Monday, Dr. Walensky was emotional as she spoke during a news briefing. She said that while the nation had “so much reason for hope,” she could not shake the recurring feeling of “impending doom.”

“I think people want to be done with this,” she said. But now, she said, “we actually have it in our power to be done, with the scale of the vaccination. And that will be so much slower if we have another surge to deal with as well.”

Dr. Walensky’s remarks came at a striking moment when there has been optimism about the availability and effectiveness of vaccines. Three dozen states are set to open eligibility to the general public by mid-April, well before Mr. Biden’s earlier pledge of May 1.

More than one in three American adults have received at least one shot and nearly one-fifth are fully vaccinated, but the nation is a long way from reaching so-called herd immunity, the tipping point that comes when the spread of a virus begins to slow because enough people, estimated at 70 to 90 percent of the population, are immune to it.

The country’s current situation harks back to the early days of the pandemic, “where we had introductions of virus to different places that scientists warned would be a problem,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health. “People waited for them to be a problem before they took action — and then too late, they took action.”

Apoorva Mandavilli contributed reporting.

Video
Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, delivered an impassioned plea on Monday for Americans to recommit to following coronavirus guidelines as infections increase across the country.CreditCredit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden, facing a rise in coronavirus cases around the country, called on Monday for governors and mayors to reinstate mask mandates as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of “impending doom” from a potential fourth surge of the pandemic.

The president’s comments came only hours after the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, appeared to fight back tears as she pleaded with Americans to “hold on a little while longer” and continue following public health advice, like wearing masks and social distancing, to curb the virus’s spread. The nation has “so much reason for hope,” she added.

“But right now,” she said, “I’m scared.”

The back-to-back appeals reflected a growing sense of urgency among top White House officials and government scientists that the chance to conquer the pandemic, now in its second year, may slip through its grasp. According to a New York Times database, the seven-day average of new virus cases as of Sunday was about 63,000, a level comparable with late October’s average. That was up from 54,000 a day two weeks earlier, an increase of more than 16 percent.

Public health experts say that the nation is in a race between the vaccination campaign and new, worrisome coronavirus variants, including B.1.1.7, a more transmissible and possibly more lethal version of the virus that has been spreading rapidly. While more than one in three American adults have received at least one shot and nearly one-fifth are fully vaccinated, the nation is a long way from reaching so-called herd immunity — the tipping point that comes when spread of a virus begins to slow because so many people, estimated at 70 to 90 percent of the population, are immune to it.

The warnings come at the same time as some promising news: A C.D.C. report released Monday confirmed the findings of last year’s clinical trials that vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer were highly effective against Covid-19. The report documented that the vaccines work to prevent both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections “in real-world conditions.”

The seven-day average of vaccines administered hit 2.76 million on Monday, an increase over the pace the previous week, according to data reported by the C.D.C. On Sunday alone, nearly 3.3 million people were inoculated, said Andy Slavitt, a senior White House pandemic adviser.

Mr. Biden said on Monday that the administration was taking steps to expand vaccine eligibility and access, including opening a dozen new mass vaccination centers. He directed his coronavirus response team to ensure that 90 percent of Americans would be no farther than five miles from a vaccination site by April 19.

Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term
Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo speaking last month, on the third day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla.Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

In a series of speeches, interviews and Twitter posts, Mike Pompeo is emerging as the most outspoken critic of President Biden among former top Trump officials. And much as the former Trump secretary of state did when in office, he is ignoring the custom that current and former secretaries of state avoid the appearance of political partisanship.

In back-to-back appearances in Iowa and during an interview in New Hampshire over the past week, Mr. Pompeo questioned the Biden administration’s resolve toward China. In Iowa, he accused the White House of reversing the Trump administration’s immigration policy “willy-nilly and without any thought.” He derided Mr. Biden for referring to notes during his first formal news conference on Thursday.

“What’s great about not being the secretary of state anymore is I can say things that when I was a diplomat I couldn’t say,” Mr. Pompeo said the next morning, to a small crowd at the Westside Conservative Club near Des Moines.

It seems clear that Mr. Pompeo, a onetime Republican congressman from Kansas, is animated not just by freedom but also by a drive for high elective office long evident to friends and foes. His appearances in a pair of presidential battleground states only seem to confirm his widely assumed interest in a 2024 presidential campaign.

“Usually former presidents and secretaries of state try not to quickly trash their successors — especially in foreign policy,” said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian. He said Mr. Pompeo “probably believes he is demonstrating his Trumpiness by castigating the performance of the newly installed President Biden.”

Last week, Mr. Pompeo tweeted that the Biden administration’s plans to restart aid to the Palestinians canceled under Mr. Trump were “immoral” and would support terrorist activity. “Americans and Israelis should be outraged by the Biden administration’s plans to do so,” Mr. Pompeo wrote.

But his commentary goes beyond foreign policy. Mr. Pompeo has also condemned Mr. Biden’s “backward” “open border” policies. And on March 19, he simply tweeted the number 1,327 — an apparent reference to the number of days until the 2024 election.

There is little sign that Mr. Pompeo’s criticism has struck a nerve among Biden officials and their allies. Asked about the remarks last month, a State Department spokesman, Ned Price, declined to respond directly but said the Biden and Trump administrations shared the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“No one cares,” Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeted in response to a recent news report about a Pompeo critique of Mr. Biden’s policies.

Continue reading the main story
Live Updates: Learning From the Past, Biden Aims for Big Spending Early in His Term
Goldman Sachs’s headquarters in New York.Credit...Johannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A frustrated Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday in a securities fraud class-action case against Goldman Sachs, with several justices indicating puzzlement about what they were supposed to do in light of both parties’ seeming to agree about the governing legal standard.

Two justices, using the same metaphor, said they saw little daylight between the two sides.

The case was brought by pension funds that said they had lost as much as $13 billion because of what they called false statements about the investment bank’s sales of complex debt instruments before the 2008 financial crisis.

The contested statements were abstract and general. One example: “Our clients’ interests always come first.” Another: “Integrity and honesty are at the heart of our business.”

The plaintiffs argued that those statements and others were at odds with what they said were conflicts of interest at the firm, which they accused of packaging and selling securities intended to fail even as Goldman Sachs and its favored clients bet against them. Goldman has denied deceiving investors.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, said Goldman’s statements, in context, were enough to allow the case to proceed as a class action. If that decision is upheld, it would simplify future plaintiffs’ task in bringing class-action fraud suits.

Securities fraud cases often involve examining whether false statements caused a company’s stock price to rise, but in this case, the plaintiffs argue that the statements served to keep the stock from falling, until it plummeted in 2010 on word that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating one of the bank’s funds that dealt with subprime mortgages.

A lawyer for Goldman Sachs, Kannon K. Shanmugam, said the “exceptionally generic and aspirational statements” could not have affected its stock price, but conceded as a general matter that courts could take account of generic statements in deciding whether investors had relied on them.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett said the positions of the pension funds and Goldman Sachs had evolved and converged during the litigation. “It seems to me that you’ve both moved toward the middle,” she told Thomas C. Goldstein, a lawyer for the pension funds. “They’ve backed off on how important they think generality is and whether it can be decided categorically. But you’ve also conceded that generality is relevant.”

And Justice Stephen G. Breyer suggested there might be nothing for the Supreme Court to do, as its main job is to announce general legal principles rather than to decide particular disputes.

“This seems like an area that, the more that I read about it,” he said, “the less that we write, the better.”